Saturday, December 31, 2016

Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice (3DS) Review

Here we are, ladies and gentlemen! We have arrived at not just the final review of 2016, but also the final post of 2016! We covered Mario earlier this month with Super Mario Run, so let's take a look at his former rival's latest with Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice for the Nintendo 3DS. Let's see if this is a marked improvement over Shattered Crystal, which released a couple of years ago.

Fiery Hot or Icy Not?

When Sonic Boom was revealed, fans of the Blue Blur and gamers alike were flabbergasted. How could they bastardize a beloved gaming icon! While others gave the new side-series a chance, that goodwill soon soured with the release of the Wii U's Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, a game that rivals the dreadful Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 in pure, unadulterated awfulness. Though the CG cartoon Sonic Boom is a quality series, the gaming portion of the franchise has yet to strike gold... or even come close, for that matter. Will the newest Nintendo 3DS entry, Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice heat things up or leave players in the cold?

Things have been overhauled since Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal. Levels are less like labyrinths and more like action stages as seen in traditional 2D Sonic games outside the Boom lineage. There is also no focus on being required to collect items in levels. Instead, everything in a level is purely optional to obtain, though those wanting the most bang for the rings will want to explore every inch of a level for goodies, such as hammers for Amy, springs for Sticks, and special challenge areas, possessing the most difficult platforming trials in the game.

While quite tropical, this level is hardly a summer getaway for Sonic and friends.
Levels in Fire & Ice see themselves along two planes, one in the foreground and one in the background that with springs, your character jumps between. There's great attention to speed in the levels, though these are purely automated boost segments, where your character rushes through loop-de-loops, bounces along springs, and jets past boosters without any possible input from you the player. Fire & Ice includes its fair share of these sections, which makes the game sort of play itself at times.

Most levels feature shared obstacles to avoid and contraptions to interact with, such as spheres that Sonic and friends can tether to in order to swing across gaps, platforms that shortly disappear once a character stands on them, and aforementioned things like springs and boosters. Thankfully, some levels do introduce new contraptions and obstacles for Sonic and friends to contend with. These include things like platforms that swing back and forth from a chain, a barrel that blocks progress that can have its fuses lit to cause it to explode, and character-specific obstacles.

The tether, something that Sonic and friends will be using a lot in Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice.
Starting out in Fire & Ice, you just have Sonic as an available character. As you progress through the game, Sonic's friends join up as playable characters, which you can switch between automatically by tapping their icons on the touch screen. Different characters have different abilities, which makes them able to access locations that other characters can't. For instance, not only can Sonic's best buddy Tails ride the winds of fans, but he can use his blaster to aim at enemies and blast specific blocks to smithereens either directly or with a laser guided sight, ricocheting a shot off a mirror into the block. Meanwhile, Amy, who is a playable character for the first time in the handheld Sonic Boom series, can use her hammer to smash down certain pillars for access to new areas. Each of the five playable characters is worthwhile to use, though in speed runs, I heavily preferred to use Sonic due to his ability to spin dash and boost in the air.

Tails has two special abilities: the ability to slowly hover to the ground
like so, as well as the ability to use a blaster.
Of course, that isn't all that levels have to offer obstacle-wise either in general or when specific to a certain character. I haven't mentioned what the "Fire & Ice" in Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice is all about. Through pressing either shoulder button, Sonic and friends can change between a fiery aura and an icy one. With the fire form, ice can be melted, while with the ice form, bodies of water can be frozen solid. Initial levels give you plenty of practice with this central mechanic, and all later levels use it in some regard. The most difficult sections of Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice tend to require you to switch between forms quickly and in the correct order to pass specific obstacles, especially in the aforementioned challenge areas of levels. Though, a central mechanic, I feel that Fire & Ice doesn't fulfill the mechanic's full potential, so it seems like a gimmick than anything else, and not something that makes the game stand out.

You better heat up, Sonic, before those spike blocks crash down on you.
Other than traditional 2D levels, Sonic Boom's second installment on the 3DS features alternate level types. Rather than be inside the traditional levels, ruining the pacing of said levels, sections where you pilot Tails' submarine through a side-scrolling maze of sorts to search for treasure, are separate levels entirely. In addition to those, the returning behind-the-back rushes through caverns, not too far removed from the half-pipe special stages from Sonic the Hedgehog 2, make their return. There are also three-lap races against one of Dr. Eggman's robots, as well as quick jaunts with Tails in a hovercraft, blasting icebergs while avoiding mines to reach the goal. The Tails levels are simple and quick enough to complete, but they feel like nothing but filler regardless.

Even Knuckles gets in on the speedy action in Fire & Ice.
During four points during the story, Sonic and friends face off against one of the game's bosses. Each battle takes up both screens of the Nintendo 3DS, and has Sonic teaming up with a different pal each boss fight, with Sonic and his friend tagging each other in automatically depending on the part of the battle. These fights are relatively easy to beat both the optional time requirement and ring count, though you might have to restart them multiple times to do so, as you learn each bosses' attack patterns.

Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice isn't a long adventure by any means. To 100% complete it, you'll need about 8-10 hours, though thankfully this time around the bonus for 100% isn't just the Sonic crew dancing, mocking you wasting part of your life going for 100%. There are numerous things to unlock, such as new bots to race on Thunder Island, the racing destination of the game; as well as currency to spend on behind-the-scenes content like concept art and sneak peeks at stuff from the upcoming season two of the Sonic Boom cartoon.

Fire & Ice is a serviceable game visually. There is a great deal of detail in the backgrounds, and the different environments presented through them are the stars of the show here. Sonic and friends' character models aren't as well done, however, looking a bit bizarre up close, and due to each level's ending screen, you'll be seeing them up close quite a lot. The game also has some minor frame-rate issues, some most noticeable in certain sections of levels, where for me it slowed down to a single digit crawl for a brief couple of seconds. However, those times are awfully rare. When it concerns sound, the voice actors do a fine job bringing the Saturday morning cartoon feel of the show to Fire & Ice, though the music is quite forgettable-- a shame considering the same composer did tremendous work with Sonic 3D Blast's Saturn version and Sonic R.

The backgrounds and environments, like the one in this special challenge area, look best in Fire & Ice.
Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice is a tough game to recommend at full MSRP, just because how fast the game is over, even for completionists like myself. Nonetheless, if you can nab it for $20, then you'll find yourself with a game that serves the Blue Blur well as a genuinely pleasant platformer. The central mechanic of switching between fire and ice forms to melt and freeze platforms may not be fully realized or implemented to its fullest potential, but it's fun enough and offers a change of pace. The Sonic Boom franchise might still not have its blockbuster, totally way past cool entry yet, but Fire & Ice is hardly a fail of a game.

[SPC Says: C+]

SuperPhillip Central Best of 2016 Awards - Top Five Downloadable Games

Tomorrow, the SuperPhillip Central Best of 2016 Awards will crown the site's Game of the Year. Until then, however, we cap off the year of posts on SuperPhillip Central with two things: a new review and one more awards category. We're doing the latter right now, focusing on the top five downloadable games that I enjoyed the most this year. Like other categories of the SuperPhillip Central Best of 2016 Awards, limiting this list to just five entries really does a disservice to all the great, satisfying games that came out digitally. Regardless, here are SuperPhillip Central's five picks for top downloadable releases.

5) Super Mario Run (iOS)

Mario meets mobile with much success! Super Mario Run may not have met the lofty expectations of investors (who just want Nintendo to nickle and dime consumers anyway for easy money), but for players who took the plunge on this premium priced mobile game, they would find a successful transplant of 2D Mario made with mobile in mind. This auto-runner is easy enough to beat, but the true fun comes from both collecting all the pink, purple, and black coins in each level-- something that takes a lot of mastery to do-- and playing the enjoyable Toad Rally mode. Nintendo and DeNA should be congratulated for a nice take on 2D Mario to fit mobile.

4) Ittle Dew 2 (PS4, XB1, PC)

We may have to wait until next year to get our next taste of The Legend of Zelda series, but this year indie dev Ludosity brought a Zelda-like experience to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Steam with Ittle Dew 2. This game presents a wide open world to explore where hidden caves house glorious new items to help Ittle on her quest, dungeons that can be played in any order that are full of devious puzzles and challenging enemies, and a level of self-aware humor that makes for an immensely charming game. The level of care and consideration put into Ittle Dew 2 by Ludosity makes it a marked improvement over the game's predecessor and makes for one Zelda-like game that does its inspiration well.

3) Aqua Moto Racing Utopia (PS4, PC)

I have gushed about Zordix's Aqua Moto Racing Utopia a lot already on the SuperPhillip Central Best of 2016 Awards, and I don't think I'm quite finished. If you've been waiting for a water-racing experience that rivals what I consider the best of the bunch in Wave Race 64, then you absolutely need to download Aqua Moto Racing Utopia. A lot of thought was put into how each craft handles, and the physics of the wave are satisfyingly realistic. The ten venues each sport a variety of races, and the solo and multiplayer options are full of things to do. Those looking for a tight Wave Race-like experience will find a superb one with Aqua Moto Racing Utopia.

2) Adventures of Mana (iOS, Android, Vita)

A remake of Final Fantasy Adventure, a game that originally released on the OG Game Boy, Adventures of Mana is a splendid update. A lot of old school design decisions and sensibilities are still present, making for a journey that seldom holds your hand, so when you successfully figure out what to do next, you get a really rewarding feeling. From the pleasant visuals to the lovely music, interesting puzzle and combat-filled dungeons, and the expansive world map, Adventures of Mana is a 10-hour quest that will make you continually want to come back for more. At least that was the case with me.

1) Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 (3DS)

The Mega Man series is one of my favorites in gaming. There is just something special about running, jumping, and shooting through levels. Azure Striker Gunvolt 2, developed by the same crew behind the Mega Man Zero games, fills that same niche splendidly with intense, pulse-pounding action. The game allows for players to take on the stories of one of two playable characters, each with distinctive play styles, both a lot of fun. Levels don't linger around too long, making for repeated play-throughs as blast to do, and the bosses are as challenging and entertaining as one would expect from a game that takes the mantle of the Mega Man series. Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 is a brilliant game, a serious improvement over the original, and should give most action-platforming fans something to enjoy for hours to come.

SuperPhillip Central Best of 2016 Awards - Top Five Biggest Surprises

This category of the SuperPhillip Central Best of 2016 Awards delves into those games where I wasn't expecting to enjoy them as much I ended up doing so. It's always awesome to not have high expectations for a game, and then that same game ends up blowing you away. The five games on this top five countdown are those that did just that.

5) Dragon Quest Builders (PS4, Vita)

Minecraft is a massive beast of a game. It was so much one that Microsoft purchased the property for an extravagant chunk of change, and even that's underselling it. Many clones of Minecraft have since come out, but none have the pomp and circumstance of the Dragon Quest name. Combining the similar gameplay of Minecraft to the world of Dragon Quest with Dragon Quest Builders paid off enormously for Square Enix and for gamers in general, as Builders is a fantastic cross between Minecraft and Dragon Quest. Building a fortified town or castle, scrounging around the land for materials, and besting big bad enemies make for a supremely good time. Whether you play on a portable or sit down at home and play on the PS4, you're going to get a satisfying gaming experience with Dragon Quest Builders.

4) Aqua Moto Racing Utopia (PS4, PC)

The sole indie game on this list (though the amount of surprisingly good indie games could take up 10 lists!), Aqua Moto Racing Utopia feels like a fantastic unofficial successor to Nintendo's Wave Race series, sporting smooth and tight handling of the various watercraft, ten venues featuring multiple buoy-to-buoy courses, a wide variety of modes, and plenty of things to do, such as local or online multiplayer. It seems like sacrilege to say that a game from a lesser known indie developer could shine just as brightly as Nintendo's Wave Race, particularly Wave Race 64, but it, in fact, is very much true, making Aqua Moto Racing Utopia perfect for this list of biggest surprises of 2016.

3) Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Wii U)

While I've enjoyed previous Olympic outings by Mario and Sonic, two of the most revered icons in gaming, I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed the latest game on Wii U, Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. No longer did players have to waggle a Wii Remote (and I mean actual random shaking of the Wii Remote and not actual gesture controls) to race, run, or whatnot. Instead, the game was wholly controlled with analog and button inputs. The amount of content and enjoyable events made for some very pleasant solo and local multiplayer gaming sessions, and the presentation was superb as ever. The Summer Olympic might be over, but it's never too late to check out Mario and Sonic's Rio exploits on Wii U.

2) Titanfall 2 (PS4, XB1, PC)

I'm a fan of older first-person shooters due to many having expansive levels and maps with plenty of places to show off my shooting prowess (or lack thereof). Titanfall 2's single player campaign possesses such a campaign, plus it features a lot of awesome mobility measures like running along walls and sliding across the ground. Then, there's the ability to pilot a massive mech, bringing the pain to both infantry and fellow mechs alike. Couple the insanely exciting single player campaign with the craziness of combat online across a series of well designed maps, and you have SuperPhillip Central's runner-up pick for biggest surprise of 2016.

1) DOOM (PS4, XB1, PC)

As I mentioned, I'm not the biggest modern FPS fan out there, as many campaigns nowadays are extremely linear with very little exploration involved. DOOM's resurgence into the gaming this past year not only surprised with its insanely fun and fast paced combat, but its level design housed a plethora of interesting secrets that stood out for being fun to find and worthwhile too. I am amazed by how much I really enjoyed DOOM. It feels like a modernized version of old school FPS games, and that is a concept that really resonated with me as a player, making it my biggest surprise of 2016.

Friday, December 30, 2016

SuperPhillip Central Best of 2016 Awards - Top Five Biggest Disappointments

I used to house a lot of hostility towards the industry and gamers in general in the past with SuperPhillip Central. Over the 8+ years of the site, I've since cleaned up my act, as hey-- there's enough hostility in the industry and the hobby already, so why add to it! That doesn't mean I'm sunshine and happiness each and every day, as this awards category for the SuperPhillip Central Best of 2016 Awards shows. We're talking about the games that disappointed me the greatest from those I had the honor (or dishonor?) of playing.

5) Street Fighter V (PS4, PC)

Despite its core gameplay being anything but a disaster-- instead, just as good as ever-- the disappointment from Street Fighter V came from how little content the game had when it originally released in February worldwide. The lack of modes, including a traditional arcade and story mode, meant that for players who weren't that interested in seriously investing in the competitive portion of the game didn't really get their money's worth. The launch was also plagued with connection issues as well as rage quitting problems. While some of these problems have been fixed, to say that they didn't affect Capcom's bottom line and the interest of both beginning and middle-of-the-road players would be foolish.

4) Mekazoo (PS4, XB1, PC)

This entry on my list is one that is very much a personal disappointment. Mekazoo is a 2.5D platformer where you switch between different animals to solve challenges and progress through the various levels of the game. It's actually a well designed game, but the biggest issue which comes blatantly apparent in the latter half of the game is how many bugs, glitches, and performance problems the game currently has. While these have been promised to be amended and soon, it absolutely ruined my fun for an indie game that I was very much hyping. Until these problems are patched, Mekazoo is a game I won't be returning to.

3) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan (Multi)

Platinum Games can be hit or miss with their licensed projects. While Transformers: Devastation was an awesome action game set in the Robots in Disguise universe, a game like The Legend of Korra wasn't so special. Sadly, Platinum Games' Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game, Mutants in Manhattan falls in the latter "not so special" category. With four Turtles on screen at the same time and some bizarre camera angles, it is challenging to see what is going on. This makes dodging and evading attacks, something that is of the utmost of importance to survive, something immensely difficult to do. The randomness of the mission design, boring level design in general, and less-than-stellar action makes for a Turtles game that is about as appetizing as Turtle Soup.

2) Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness (PS4)

One of my favorite JRPGs of all time is the incredible Star Ocean: The Second Story and its PSP enhanced port, Second Evolution. Since then, the series has seen another appealing entry with the PS2's Till the End of Time, a not-so-great fourth entry last gen, and now, this year's Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness. Between the inability to skip most scenes (just standing around or walking about with impatience, since for the most part there are limited "true" cutscenes to be found), the difficulty to see what's going on in battle, tedious backtracking, and vanilla characters, Star Ocean's latest is far from the greatest. The lack of a sizable budget definitely shows and certainly hurts the overall product. Though I completed the game, I really have no desire to return to the world occupied by protagonist Fidel and his bland companions.

1) Mighty No. 9 (Multi)

It took approximately three million dollars to make... this?! Mighty No. 9 is a lesson in Kickstarter of not spreading yourself too thin, which is exactly what Keiji Inafune did with Mighty No. 9 by wanting to put the game on seemingly every platform under the sun. Plus, I don't think starting a completely different Kickstarter while your first one hasn't even launched a final product is a good idea... Regardless, Mighty No. 9 suffers from various performance problems, but its main issue is that it just doesn't do anything special. The controls work well enough, but the level design is unimaginative at best and is pitiful at worst (looking at you, museum level with no checkpoints until the end, and you, level with the pink spinning turbines). Waiting so many years, hearing so much PR speak, and it all led to this... unacceptably bland game is why SuperPhillip Central picks Mighty No. 9 at the biggest disappointment of 2016. (Well, gaming-wise.)

SuperPhillip Central Best of 2016 Awards - Top Five Platformers

Whether 2D or 3D, the platformer is my favorite genre of game. That's why I'm always happy to have a mighty fine selection of platformers to choose from each year for this very special, near and dear to my gamer heart awards category. From mobile runners starring familiar game characters to reboots starring unlikely allies, this top five list of my favorite platformers runs the gamut of great jump 'n runs!

5) Shantae: Half-Genie Hero (Multi)

A successful Kickstarter gave developer WayForward the ability to create and launch the fourth entry in the Shantae franchise, Half-Genie Hero, just in time for the end of the year! The game features a different structure compared to previous entries, having players return to levels with different animal transformations like an elephant or the all-new spider to reach previously inaccessible locations. The jumping, running, and lashing of Shantae's hair feels the best it ever has, and the aforementioned benefit of returning to levels is something that players will want to do since the game is so much fun. It makes for a game that may star a half-genie, but it's nowhere near a half-hearted effort. (Ugh. Even I groaned at how forced that last line sounded!)

4) Super Mario Run (iOS)

Coming to Android devices next year, Super Mario Run debuted on iOS-compatible devices in the middle of this month, rounding off a year of mobile gaming in style. This auto-runner is simple enough to be accessible to beginning players who may just want to reach each level's end, but it's complicated enough with all of the stunts like wall jumps and vaults that Mario can perform to reach hard to access areas to collect those dastardly pink, purple, and black coins! Nintendo and DeNA successfully transplanted the Mario formula and gameplay to mobile devices, making it work, making it unique, and most importantly, making it fun.

3) Kirby: Planet Robobot (3DS)

HAL Laboratory has done really well with the Kirby series as of late. A couple of years ago, Kirby: Triple Deluxe received various honors at the SuperPhillip Central Best of 2014 Awards, and now it's its successor's turn with Kirby: Planet Robobot. With stages that take clever advantage of the depth that the Nintendo 3DS's stereoscopic 3D provides, sprawling in the foreground as well as background, and new abilities for Kirby to snatch up, even allowing him to pilot a marvelous mech, Kirby: Planet Robobot may not deviate too far from the formula of past games, but it's a finely tuned experience overall. This is pure platforming fun in adorable form, so if it's not too cute for you, then Kirby: Planet Robobot is a recommended purchase for platforming fans with a Nintendo 3DS system.

2) Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 (3DS)

Sold separately on the Nintendo 3DS eShop or bundled physically on one game card with the original Azure Striker Gunvolt with the Striker Pack, Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 presents to the player an adrenaline-pumping action game that showcases the unique play styles of both Gunvolt and new character Copen. While there is a great focus on blasting enemies to smithereens, there are a multitude of moments where precise platforming is a prerequisite to get by unscathed. While Mighty No. 9 faltered in taking up the mantle of Mega Man-like action platformers, Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 feels like a terrific successor to that style of gameplay.

1) Ratchet & Clank (PS4)

Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 showed that you don't just need to focus on jumping to have a great platformer. Ratchet & Clank continues to show this with its excellent, near perfect combination of enjoyable platforming and challenging run and gun action. Being a remake of sorts of the very first Ratchet & Clank from 2002, this PlayStation 4 debut of the lombax and robot pair presents many moments where you're engaged in pure platforming, many moments of unadulterated action, and many moments where you get a pleasant mix of the two. It's for these reasons that 2016's Ratchet & Clank is my pick for top platformer this year.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

SuperPhillip Central Best of 2016 Awards - Top Five Most Overlooked/Underrated Games

SuperPhillip Central regularly covers overlooked and underrated video games with its Most Overlooked series of game articles. It only makes sense for the SuperPhillip Central Best of 2016 Awards to dedicate a category to those overlooked and/or underrated games of the year that either flew under the radar or didn't get the credit that I arguably feel that they deserve. From Zelda and Wave Race-inspired games to Nintendo's own works, this list has a good amount of variety on it.

5) Star Fox Zero (Wii U)

For many fans, Nintendo just keeps shooting the Star Fox series in the foot. Many just want a version of Star Fox 64 with completely new levels and they'd be satisfied. However, Nintendo opts to keep tinkering with the formula, or in Star Fox Zero's case, the controls. With the Wii U release this year, the Wii U GamePad allows players to get two vantage points on the action, one a full screen view of the Arwing or other vehicle, and one in the cockpit. Using both smartly, which takes some time to get accustomed to, one can take out enemies by flying their Arwing in one direction while using the GamePad to aim in a completely different direction. This is something that would be impossible without the GamePad. Though this control setup is indeed convoluted, it makes for a more involved and, for me, entertaining experience. Featuring amazing action and memorable scenes, Star Fox Zero deserved more fanfare for what it successfully set out to do.

4) Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Wii U)

We take for granted that Mario and Sonic have been appearing together in games for quite a while now, even if it's just mostly relegated to the Olympics. While many passed by or just utterly dismissed the latest installment of the series on Wii U, Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games delivered a wide range of events, content, and a nice presentation to boot. For those who groan about motion controls, particularly the waggle variety, this year's Wii U version features all analog and button controls, something new to the series. Between getting gold medals, breaking records on each event, unlocking Mii costume pieces, and new remixes of Mario and Sonic music, the latest Mario & Sonic is a great one that deserves more attention even though we're way past the summer Olympic season.

3) Metroid Prime: Federation Force (3DS)

Oh, Metroid Prime: Federation Force, you never stood a chance, my dear game! The disgust from Metroid fans towards this game might have had some merit, and it certainly wasn't the game from the Metroid series that fans were expecting, but overall, you were a fun excursion. Completing missions with varied objectives gave me a lot of enjoyment, whether sneaking stealthily into a Space Pirate base out of my mech, taking down a behemoth-sized boss, or solving simple puzzles to progress. It was especially so with some close friends online or off. The bonus mode of Boost Ball added a competitive side of the package, and a just as fun one, too. Despite my disappointment with Federation Force not being a true Metroid game in the traditional sense, I feel that coupled with the interesting mission design and fluid combat that Metroid Prime: Federation Force got more criticism than it deserved.

2) Ittle Dew 2 (PS4, XB1, PC)

While we won't see The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild until sometime next year, there was a title that released this year that took on the Zelda mantle, but in an overhead perspective. That game was Ittle Dew 2, a game that is a far better experience than the already good original. With eight unique dungeons that can be played in practically any order, a world map that is sensationally fun to explore as you search for hidden caverns full of worthwhile treasure, puzzles that can really perplex but feature clever, never unfair solutions, and enjoyable combat, Ittle Dew 2 is a Zelda-like experience that I was absolutely addicted to from start to finish.

1) Aqua Moto Racing Utopia (PS4, PC)

It's no doubt in my mind that the price point of Aqua Moto Racing Utopia turned off a lot of prospective buyers. I mean, $30 for a digital game from a not-so-well-known indie developer doesn't really whet the appetite. However, for those that take the plunge will find an aquatic racing game that rivals Wave Race 64 in content, control, and value. Sure, you won't get the same nostalgia as turning on the old Nintendo 64, but with Aqua Moto Racing Utopia you get a multitude of venues with a myriad of buoy-to-buoys races, tricky time trials, awesome stunt potential, and multiplayer in both split-screen and online forms. It's just a darn shame that so few played this game this year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

SuperPhillip Central Best of 2016 Awards - Top Five Most Pleasing Visuals

Graphics usually take the backseat for me in importance when judging the overall quality of a game. However, that doesn't mean they don't serve a genuine purpose when examining a game. When I judge the visuals of a game, I'm not looking for the most impressive pushing of polygons or pixels; I'm looking at the games that have a desirable art style and use that art style well. These five games fit that bill rather nicely to show what I mean.

5) The Last Guardian (PS4)

Like something out of a children's storybook, The Last Guardian's visuals present a gorgeous display that assists the world to being a character as much as Trico and its young boy keeper are. Trico itself never fails to make me gaze at the creature in awe, much like the detailed world that I also saw myself stopping every bit of the way to take in. Performance problems aside on the OG PlayStation 4, The Last Guardian's visuals ultimately delight and help establish a wondrous setting for a wondrous adventure.

4) Final Fantasy XV (PS4, XB1)

The developers of Final Fantasy usually show mastery in getting a lot of the hardware each entry is placed on. Despite being a less than desirable game, Final Fantasy XIII is a true beauty. With ten years of planning, development, and stumbling points, it didn't seem like Final Fantasy XV would turn out well, especially starting out on the PS3. However, not only is the game superb, but so are the visuals. From the huge draw distance showcasing jaw-dropping vistas and tremendous views to the immaculate character and enemy models (and how about those food dishes!), Final Fantasy XV is a visual showcase on both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, giving it the four spot on this top five countdown.

3) Paper Mario: Color Splash (Wii U)

Despite being weaker hardware compared to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, the Wii U has shown many times that it can hang with the big boys, if not by visual fidelity then by style alone. Paper Mario: Color Splash is one such game that makes a case for how a game's art style can really bring out a healthy heaping of beauty. The paper characters look fantastic, and the environments made also of paper but also cardboard create a world that is both fun to explore and mighty pleasing to the eyes. Nintendo and Intelligent Systems may not have gone the desired direction with the gameplay, but visually, Paper Mario: Color Splash is a sight to behold.

2) Uncharted 4: A Thief's End (PS4)

There are few games that make me do double-takes upon seeing the visuals. Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is one such game. From the amazingly lifelike visuals, showing realistic human models that don't delve too deeply into the uncanny valley, immensely detailed backgrounds and environments, and special effects that boost the visual splendor to magnificent levels, Uncharted 4 is an amazing achievement visually. Naughty Dog's graphical team really nailed the look of the game and mastered the PS4 hardware, making it all the more exciting to see how The Last of Us 2 turns out.

1) Ratchet & Clank (PS4)

Ratchet & Clank is the PlayStation 4 game that most impressed me this year, especially seeing it played on the PS4 Pro. I'll always take a fantastical world and characters over realism any day, and Ratchet & Clank's colorful visual style checks that box well. The game looks like the film of the same name only in interactive form. The different planets are truly marvels to look at and engage in, and the character models exude personality, charm, and push plenty of polygons. These reasons alone put Ratchet & Clank as the game with the most pleasing visuals for SuperPhillip Central's Best of 2016 Awards.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

SuperPhillip Central Best of 2016 Awards - Top Five Original Soundtracks

Welcome to the first of a variety of lists here on SuperPhillip Central! It's the ninth annual "SuperPhillip Central Best Of Awards", this time celebrating all the good and all the bad of 2016. While the world wasn't a winner this past year, in gaming, the industry truly shined. The SuperPhillip Central Best of 2016 Awards kicks off tonight with a look at the best original soundtracks of the year.

Video game music is something that is highlighted every Monday with SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs, so it only makes sense that an awards category is dedicated to the best music of the year. Here we go with the top five original soundtracks of 2016!

5) Fire Emblem Fates (3DS)

This inaugural list of the SuperPhillip Central Best of 2016 Awards begins with Fire Emblem Fates, which saw three versions released early this year. Between the gorgeous melodies of story sequences and the more intense battle themes, Fire Emblem Fates has players and listeners covered with a variety of themes to fit any emotional mood.

4) Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam (3DS)

Yoko Shimomura delivers a lighthearted and catchy soundtrack with Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, the latest in the long-running handheld RPG franchise. You have a sense of wonder with themes like Forest Fairy Melody, while with other songs you get a feeling of rushing adrenaline as you face foes like with the songs of Big Bang! and Final Battle. Which ever song you listen to, you're bound to love it.

3) Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Wii U, 3DS)

It doesn't matter the quality of the game-- whenever Sonic Team heads a game, you can bet your gold medal that the soundtrack is going to be exquisite. In Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games' case, not only is the soundtrack, a perfect representation of Rio, wonderful, but the game isn't too bad either. Nothing gets the feel of Rio better than the soundtrack of this game, crafted by some of Sega's brightest composers.

2) Paper Mario: Color Splash (Wii U)

We just can't get away from Mario, can we! An assortment of composers created the superb sounds of the Paper Mario: Color Splash soundtrack. Regardless of what you think of the direction the gameplay of Color Splash went, I think most of us can agree that the soundtrack is nothing short of heavenly with blissful tunes and hum-able ditties. For much of the soundtrack, a smile never fails to be implanted upon my face. For these reasons (and the music just being marvelously crafted), Paper Mario: Color Splash is the runner-up this year for Best Original Soundtrack.

1) Final Fantasy XV (PS4, XB1)

Yoko Shimomura makes her presence felt yet again, but this time with a much grander in scope soundtrack, the Final Fantasy XV soundtrack! Though she composed a lot of the music for the game, Tetsuya Shibata, Yoshitaka Suzuki, among others also had a hand in crafting the glorious goodness of Final Fantasy XV's music. Pure, raw emotion is sewn into each track with the utmost of care, creating an end result that makes Final Fantasy XV's soundtrack the best original soundtrack of 2016 here at SuperPhillip Central.

We continue with more of the SuperPhillip Central Best of 2016 Awards tomorrow evening. Stay tuned, as the lists continue now until New Year's Day!

Monday, December 26, 2016

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - "Racing Towards the New Year" Edition

Welcome to a very special edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs! It's a threefold celebration this week. It's the last edition of 2016, we've reached the 1300th VGM volume, and finally, we have a themed week this edition-- all racing games as we race towards 2017!

Racers both realistic and arcade are featured this edition, starting off with the PlayStation racer that started a successful and enduring series, Gran Turismo. Then, we go from asphalt to water with a song from Wave Race 64. Following that comes a pair of kart racers, Mickey's Speedway USA and Mario Kart: Super Circuit. Last up is Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, a highly competent arcade racer featuring an embarrassment of Sega riches.

Remember to click on the VGM volume name to hear the song represented. Then, if you like, check out the VGM Database for every VGM volume ever featured. Now, for the last time in 2016... let's get on to the music!

v1296. Gran Turismo (PS1) - Freedom to Win

We're kicking off this final edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs of 2016 in style with a theme that originates from Gran Turismo. We're talking about the original here from the first PlayStation. It's one of the few PlayStation franchises that has been continued since the PS1. Freedom to Win feels very '90s with a pleasant keyboard sound and sultry sax stirring things up. This song would appear in Gran Turismo 4 with different instrumentation resulting in a hard rock focus.

v1297. Wave Race 64 (N64) - Dolphin Park

Last week, SuperPhillip Central reviewed a game that gave off the same wonderful feeling of riding the waves like Wave Race 64. That game was Aqua Moto Racing Utopia. All it was really lacking was the memorable music that Wave Race 64 has, such as this theme from one of the early venues in the game, Dolphin Park.

v1298. Mickey's Speedway USA (N64) - San Francisco

Although not reaching the same highs as Diddy Kong Racing, Rare's Mickey's Speedway USA on the Nintendo 64 was an enjoyable kart racer featuring Mickey and friends. The game contained a monstrous amount of well designed courses, all taking place at specific locations and cities. Mickey's Speedway USA's San Francisco is an early track which has a jazzy theme with a funky bass line.

v1299. Mario Kart: Super Circuit (GBA) - Sunset Wilds

Due to the poor sound chip of the Game Boy Advance, many soundtracks on the system sounding extremely tinny and in lackluster quality. Hearing the songs in stereo do them a greater justice, as heard here with Mario Kart: Super Circuit's Sunset Wilds theme. This track is set under a sunset sky (if you hadn't guessed that already) and in the wild west, a lovely combination only more enhanced with this catchy theme. Just watch out for tepee-hiding Shy Guys!

v1300. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (Multi) - Carrier Zone (After Burner)

The fourth and final race of the first Grand Prix, Carrier Zone is modeled after jet fighter action classic After Burner. The race has two battleships on each end of the course that you ride on. Along the way to each you fly and ride the waves in the various vehicle transformations. Composer Richard Jacques did all of the remixes for Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, giving most an electronic feel to them.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Just in Time For Christmas: The Great Winter Wonderlands in Gaming

Merry Christmas to everyone who passes by SuperPhillip Central, both frequenters and rare passersby! SuperPhillip Central wishes you and yours the very best, and if you don't celebrate Christmas, then a happy holiday season to you!

SPC gives you the gift of a new article for this Christmas night: a look at some of my favorite winter-themed levels in gaming. By no means is this an exhaustive list, so after you've checked out my picks, name some of your favorite winter wonderlands in your favorite games. If you're so bold, also tell the community why you chose that level or levels!

Freezeezy Peak - Banjo-Kazooie (N64, XBLA)

When I think of Christmas and winter in gaming, this level in Banjo-Kazooie is usually the first that comes to mine. Freezeezy Peak is all winter all the time, featuring a wide array of landmarks fitting for the season. Such sights include the massive, and I do mean massive, snowman structure in the middle of the level, where Banjo can climb the length of its scarf, get a Jiggy from its cob pipe, and even reach the top of its hat where a Jinjo stands. Then, there is the Christmas tree where you can save a bunch of lights from being gobbled up, a cave housing a bear-loathing walrus, frozen ponds, angry snowmen that love chucking snowballs at inattentive bears and birds, and an igloo housing a family of four polar bears. Top it all off with this sensational theme, and you have a cold yet cozy world worth exploring.

Snowball Park - Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)

There are so many terrific levels and worlds in the Super Mario series to choose from. I was leaning towards Cool, Cool Mountain and Snowman's Land from Super Mario 64, but then I remembered this recent example of a wonderful winter wonderland. While it might not have the same openness of the Super Mario 64 levels I mentioned, Super Mario 3D World's Snowball Park is a great reminder of the season with Mario and crew able to pick up and toss snowballs at enemies and slide around on the ice. Then, you have the second half of the level where our heroes can leap into giant ice skates, zipping across the ice as they maneuver their way to the level's end. Snowball Park is a modern Mario level that just screams winter.

Sherbet Land - Mario Kart 8 (Wii U) / Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (GCN)

Debuting as an original track in Mario Kart: Double Dash!! for the GameCube and then appearing as a retro track in Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U, Sherbet Land is a fun, snow-filled course that sees Shy Guys skating along the ice, enjoying themselves (but you won't if you crash into them!), a cavern of icicles, a frozen-over lake full of Freezies that can make any racer become frozen solid upon bumping into them, and festive flags hanging all around. In Mario Kart 8's version of the track there are two sections where you can dive underwater, taking an aquatic route through the course. Speaking of Mario Kart 8...

Animal Crossing (Winter) - Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)

Nothing in a game gives me as warm a feeling as walking around my town in winter in Animal Crossing, no matter the version of the game. Mario Kart 8's second DLC pack brings that same exact warmness in a race with the winter version of the Animal Crossing track, a track that comes in four varieties, each a different season. Everything in Mario Kart 8's winter theme of Animal Crossing is covered in a generous dusting of snow, illuminated under the starry night sky. Houses have their lights on both indoor and out, providing a soothing glow, while many of the trees have beautiful Christmas lights on them. There is no better track in the Mario Kart series that exudes the feeling of Christmas and winter as well as this version of the Animal Crossing track in Mario Kart 8.

Ice Cap Zone - Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (GEN)

When a level starts out with your character zooming down a mountain on a snowboard with an avalanche hot on his trail, you know you're in for something way past cool. In fact, the Ice Cap Zone is way past cold! (I'll see myself out later.) A two-act zone that features both outdoor sections and indoor cavernous sections, the fifth zone in Sonic the Hedgehog 3, the Ice Cap Zone is a one-two punch of awesomeness. From the rocking soundtrack to the breaking through chunks of ice and walls of snow, there is no better zone in my opinion from the Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis trilogy that is as fantastic as Ice Cap. Of course, as a kid I could never reach it because of that stupid barrel in the preceding zone, but now that I'm able to, I appreciate the Ice Cap Zone even more!

Icicle Inn - Final Fantasy VII (PS1)

Located north of the nearby Great Glacier, Icicle Inn is a winter resort town that gives off a warm (there's that word again) and inviting feel. The light that pours out of the windows of the various cabins in the town shine brightly and magnificently, and the sun in the sky glistens on the snowy ground. It's a town so lovely and welcoming that you really want to stay there for as long as you can. Of course, that isn't possible as there is a world to save and a villain to defeat in Sephiroth. Still, you can enjoy a trip down the slopes with an enjoyable snowboarding mini-game, one that became so popular that Square Enix turned it into a mobile game. Nonetheless, between snowboarding sown the slopes and admiring the pure and genuine beauty of Icicle Inn, I'll always choose the latter.

Winter Crash - Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Multi)

If you're tired of running and gunning through sand, then maybe you'll appreciate this wintry and Christmas-y take on the OG Crash map in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Instead of sand and an afternoon sky, you get snow and nighttime air. Buildings once derelict and dull are now covered with Christmas lights and decorations, fitting for the season. Those aren't the only major changes to the map, as standing tall and proud next to a downed chopper is a 20-foot Christmas tree with all the trimmings, including a whole slew of Christmas presents at its base for all the good little soldier boys and girls involved in combat.

Shadow Moses - Metal Gear Solid (PS1)

We go from one game with guns to another, although this one has more tact and strategy involved, unless you're not one to go all stealthily. Metal Gear Solid's Shadow Moses is the locale that the entire game takes place in. While most of the game takes place indoors, some of the more memorable moments occur outside with modest visibility and sizable snowfall. From the ambient sounds of Solid Snake's feet crunching the snow below him to the arctic winds enveloping the area, Shadow Moses's outdoor areas ooze with wintry atmosphere. Shadow Moses was such a pivotal place in the Metal Gear Solid series that it would return in Guns of the Patriots with even more fanfare but even less visibility!

Phendrana Drifts - Metroid Prime (GCN)

My first time stepping into Phendrana Drifts, like a lot of players, led to a breathtaking moment of seeing a wide open expanse filled with falling snow, icy and intricate architecture, and a Metroid-style winter wonderland before my very eyes. Between the first open room complete with Chozo ruins on both ends of the map, the underwater expanses, the icicle-covered caverns, and open canyons, Phendrana Drifts is one of the more beloved areas in the Metroid Prime trilogy. Few areas in gaming exhibit as much wonder as Phendrana does. You can feel the cold and chill of the area just by the stunning ambiance and environmental cues. Retro Studios did a phenomenal job with creating Phendrana Drifts, and it still remains one of the most prolific places in Metroid series history.

Snow Barrel Blast - Donkey Kong Country (SNES)

The first level of Gorilla Glacier in Donkey Kong Country gives you a rough feeling of what to expect in the world. With a breathtaking scenery and environment of snow-covered pine trees, you can easily find yourself losing focus and falling into a pit or smacking right into a foe. As you progress through the level, what was once a slight flurry of snowfall turns into a generous gift of snow from the sky. It makes the final section of the level where DK and Diddy must time with perfect precision their being shot out of a series of rotating barrel cannons all the more difficult to complete. But, once you do, the feeling of relief and accomplishment is one you won't forget for quite a while, much like the entire level of wondrous winter spectacle.

Frosty Village - Diddy Kong Racing (N64)

I have fond memories as a middle school student where one Christmas one of my presents was the gift of Diddy Kong Racing, a kart racer that remains my favorite to this day. One of the reasons for this was memories of racing through the wintry and snowy Frosty Village track. From the start of the race, a body of water surrounds the track on each side before leading into an archway that starts a downward slope towards the titular village. A quick right turn leads into an icy tunnel that opens up into a large and expansive section of track surrounded by shining streetlamps and massive trees. Following that is the home stretch, a right turn that if you have a hovercraft, you can pass through a waterfall on the inside, a fun shortcut to take given you've got the vehicle. Besides the well done track design, the environment is full of winter touches that really puts me in a happy and joyous mood no matter what season I race on Frosty Village-- though winter is preferred!

Chilly Castle - Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (Multi)

From one kart racer to another, Chilly Castle from Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed represents Billy Hatcher & the Giant Egg, a GameCube-exclusive game from the creator of Sonic the Hedgehog, Yuji Naka. The race starts off with a series of turns and a branched path through a cozy winter village. The village roads soon converge as racers ride under a gate leading into a section surrounded by castle walls. After a handful of increasingly tighter turns, the race enters a frozen tunnel where racers' rides transform into aquatic cruisers and boats. After this watery ride is finished, the tunnel launches the racers back to the starting line. The immense amount of detail in Chilly Castle, welcoming starting village, and feeling of winter all present a superb track worthy of the season.